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Authors: Kristin Hannah

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The Nightingale

BOOK: The Nightingale
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.

 

To Matthew Shear. Friend. Mentor. Champion. You are missed.

And to Kaylee Nova Hannah, the newest star in our world:

Welcome, baby girl.

 

CONTENTS

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Acknowledgments

Also by Kristin Hannah

About the Author

Copyright

 

ONE

April 9, 1995

The Oregon Coast

If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are. Today's young people want to know everything about everyone. They think talking about a problem will solve it. I come from a quieter generation. We understand the value of forgetting, the lure of reinvention.

Lately, though, I find myself thinking about the war and my past, about the people I lost.

Lost.

It makes it sound as if I misplaced my loved ones; perhaps I left them where they don't belong and then turned away, too confused to retrace my steps.

They are not lost. Nor are they in a better place. They are gone. As I approach the end of my years, I know that grief, like regret, settles into our DNA and remains forever a part of us.

I have aged in the months since my husband's death and my diagnosis. My skin has the crinkled appearance of wax paper that someone has tried to flatten and reuse. My eyes fail me often—in the darkness, when headlights flash, when rain falls. It is unnerving, this new unreliability in my vision. Perhaps that's why I find myself looking backward. The past has a clarity I can no longer see in the present.

I want to imagine there will be peace when I am gone, that I will see all of the people I have loved and lost. At least that I will be forgiven.

I know better, though, don't I?

*   *   *

My house, named The Peaks by the lumber baron who built it more than a hundred years ago, is for sale, and I am preparing to move because my son thinks I should.

He is trying to take care of me, to show how much he loves me in this most difficult of times, and so I put up with his controlling ways. What do I care where I die? That is the point, really. It no longer matters where I live. I am boxing up the Oregon beachside life I settled into nearly fifty years ago. There is not much I want to take with me. But there is one thing.

I reach for the hanging handle that controls the attic steps. The stairs unfold from the ceiling like a gentleman extending his hand.

The flimsy stairs wobble beneath my feet as I climb into the attic, which smells of must and mold. A single, hanging lightbulb swings overhead. I pull the cord.

It is like being in the hold of an old steamship. Wide wooden planks panel the walls; cobwebs turn the creases silver and hang in skeins from the indentations between the planks. The ceiling is so steeply pitched that I can stand upright only in the center of the room.

I see the rocking chair I used when my grandchildren were young, then an old crib and a ratty-looking rocking horse set on rusty springs, and the chair my daughter was refinishing when she got sick. Boxes are tucked along the wall, marked “Xmas,” “Thanksgiving,” “Easter,” “Halloween,” “Serveware,” “Sports.” In those boxes are the things I don't use much anymore but can't bear to part with. For me, admitting that I won't decorate a tree for Christmas is giving up, and I've never been good at letting go. Tucked in the corner is what I am looking for: an ancient steamer trunk covered in travel stickers.

With effort, I drag the heavy trunk to the center of the attic, directly beneath the hanging light. I kneel beside it, but the pain in my knees is piercing, so I slide onto my backside.

For the first time in thirty years, I lift the trunk's lid. The top tray is full of baby memorabilia. Tiny shoes, ceramic hand molds, crayon drawings populated by stick figures and smiling suns, report cards, dance recital pictures.

I lift the tray from the trunk and set it aside.

The mementos in the bottom of the trunk are in a messy pile: several faded leather-bound journals; a packet of aged postcards tied together with a blue satin ribbon; a cardboard box bent in one corner; a set of slim books of poetry by Julien Rossignol; and a shoebox that holds hundreds of black-and-white photographs.

On top is a yellowed, faded piece of paper.

My hands are shaking as I pick it up. It is a
carte d'identité
, an identity card, from the war. I see the small, passport-sized photo of a young woman.
Juliette Gervaise
.

“Mom?”

I hear my son on the creaking wooden steps, footsteps that match my heartbeats. Has he called out to me before?

“Mom? You shouldn't be up here. Shit. The steps are unsteady.” He comes to stand beside me. “One fall and—”

I touch his pant leg, shake my head softly. I can't look up. “Don't” is all I can say.

He kneels, then sits. I can smell his aftershave, something subtle and spicy, and also a hint of smoke. He has sneaked a cigarette outside, a habit he gave up decades ago and took up again at my recent diagnosis. There is no reason to voice my disapproval: He is a doctor. He knows better.

My instinct is to toss the card into the trunk and slam the lid down, hiding it again. It's what I have done all my life.

Now I am dying. Not quickly, perhaps, but not slowly, either, and I feel compelled to look back on my life.

“Mom, you're crying.”

“Am I?”

I want to tell him the truth, but I can't. It embarrasses and shames me, this failure. At my age, I should not be afraid of anything—certainly not my own past.

I say only, “I want to take this trunk.”

“It's too big. I'll repack the things you want into a smaller box.”

I smile at his attempt to control me. “I love you and I am sick again. For these reasons, I have let you push me around, but I am not dead yet. I want this trunk with me.”

“What can you possibly need in it? It's just our artwork and other junk.”

If I had told him the truth long ago, or had danced and drunk and sung more, maybe he would have seen
me
instead of a dependable, ordinary mother. He loves a version of me that is incomplete. I always thought it was what I wanted: to be loved and admired. Now I think perhaps I'd like to be known.

“Think of this as my last request.”

I can see that he wants to tell me not to talk that way, but he's afraid his voice will catch. He clears his throat. “You've beaten it twice before. You'll beat it again.”

We both know this isn't true. I am unsteady and weak. I can neither sleep nor eat without the help of medical science. “Of course I will.”

“I just want to keep you safe.”

I smile. Americans can be so naïve.

Once I shared his optimism. I thought the world was safe. But that was a long time ago.

“Who is Juliette Gervaise?” Julien says and it shocks me a little to hear that name from him.

I close my eyes and in the darkness that smells of mildew and bygone lives, my mind casts back, a line thrown across years and continents. Against my will—or maybe in tandem with it, who knows anymore?—I remember.

 

TWO

The lights are going out all over Europe;

We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.

—S
IR
E
DWARD
G
REY, ON
W
ORLD
W
AR
I

August 1939

France

Vianne Mauriac left the cool, stucco-walled kitchen and stepped out into her front yard. On this beautiful summer morning in the Loire Valley, everything was in bloom. White sheets flapped in the breeze and roses tumbled like laughter along the ancient stone wall that hid her property from the road. A pair of industrious bees buzzed among the blooms; from far away, she heard the chugging purr of a train and then the sweet sound of a little girl's laughter.

Sophie.

Vianne smiled. Her eight-year-old daughter was probably running through the house, making her father dance attendance on her as they readied for their Saturday picnic.

“Your daughter is a tyrant,” Antoine said, appearing in the doorway.

He walked toward her, his pomaded hair glinting black in the sunlight. He'd been working on his furniture this morning—sanding a chair that was already as soft as satin—and a fine layer of wood dust peppered his face and shoulders. He was a big man, tall and broad shouldered, with a rough face and a dark stubble that took constant effort to keep from becoming a beard.

He slipped an arm around her and pulled her close. “I love you, V.”

“I love you, too.”

It was the truest fact of her world. She loved everything about this man, his smile, the way he mumbled in his sleep and laughed after a sneeze and sang opera in the shower.

She'd fallen in love with him fifteen years ago, on the school play yard, before she'd even known what love was. He was her first everything—first kiss, first love, first lover. Before him, she'd been a skinny, awkward, anxious girl given to stuttering when she got scared, which was often.

A motherless girl.

You will be the adult now,
her father had said to Vianne as they walked up to this very house for the first time. She'd been fourteen years old, her eyes swollen from crying, her grief unbearable. In an instant, this house had gone from being the family's summer house to a prison of sorts. Maman had been dead less than two weeks when Papa gave up on being a father. Upon their arrival here, he'd not held her hand or rested a hand on her shoulder or even offered her a handkerchief to dry her tears.

B-but I'm just a girl,
she'd said.

Not anymore.

She'd looked down at her younger sister, Isabelle, who still sucked her thumb at four and had no idea what was going on. Isabelle kept asking when Maman was coming home.

When the door opened, a tall, thin woman with a nose like a water spigot and eyes as small and dark as raisins appeared.

These are the girls?
the woman had said.

Papa nodded.

They will be no trouble.

It had happened so fast. Vianne hadn't really understood. Papa dropped off his daughters like soiled laundry and left them with a stranger. The girls were so far apart in age it was as if they were from different families. Vianne had wanted to comfort Isabelle—meant to—but Vianne had been in so much pain it was impossible to think of anyone else, especially a child as willful and impatient and loud as Isabelle. Vianne still remembered those first days here: Isabelle shrieking and Madame spanking her. Vianne had pleaded with her sister, saying, again and again,
Mon Dieu, Isabelle, quit screeching. Just do as she bids,
but even at four, Isabelle had been unmanageable.

BOOK: The Nightingale
6.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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